Another Halloween is upon us, and that means it’s time for all things spooky, scary and creepy! In the spirit of the season, and in recognition of Dacre Stoker’s visit to the Northtown Library with Club Book on Oct. 10, I’ll be talking about historical horror fiction.
The tagline “Based on a true story” has always attracted crowds to spooky tales, from William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” to Jack Ketchum’s “The Girl Next Door.” A recent trend in horror has seen authors blending historical events with tales of monsters or the supernatural, resulting in horrifying fictionalized accounts.
Maybe you are a fan of historical fiction who would not mind seeing a monster surface in your reading, or perhaps you are a horror fan looking for a new take on a favorite type of fiction. This fall, consider taking a chance on one of the following books that ride the fence between the factual and the fantastic (and consider reading up on the real-life events with some non-fiction books as well — all available at your Anoka County Library!).
“The Hunger” by Alma Katsu: “The Hunger” tells the tale of the ill-fated Donner Party that wound up stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains in the winter of 1846-47. Sick and starving, the unfortunate migrants were forced to resort to cannibalizing their dead. In Katsu’s telling, something supernatural is following the wagon train on their unlucky journey through the wilderness, and it is hungry. This, plus disease, petty squabbling and compounded setbacks result in the destruction of nearly half of the Donner-Reed wagon train.
To learn more about the Donner Party, consider “The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride” by Daniel James Brown.
“See What I Have Done” by Sarah Schmidt: Schmidt’s novel fictionalizes one of America’s most famous murder cases, the 1892 axe murder of Andrew and Abby Borden. Andrew’s daughter, 32-year-old Lizzie Borden, was never convicted of the murder, though she remains the prime suspect even today. Schmidt’s book explores the events of that day, adding depth to historical figures that may or may not shed more light on (more than likely) Lizzie’s decision to murder her father and stepmother.
To learn more about Lizzie Borden, her trial and the murders, consider “The Trial of Lizzie Borden: A True Story” by Cara Robertson.
“I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem” by Maryse Condé: Of course, no list of historical horror would be complete without a visit to Salem, Massachusetts. Maryse Condé tells the story of Tituba, the first woman accused of practicing witchcraft in the Salem witch trials. When Tituba is only 7 years old, she sees her mother hanged for hurting a plantation owner who had tried to rape her. Tituba is then raised by a woman named Mama Yaya, who teaches her magic and healing. Though she was at the center of the witch trials, Tituba’s tale has been largely forgotten. Maryse Condé’s book ensures that she will not disappear into obscurity.
To learn more about the Salem witch trials, consider “The Witches: Salem, 1692” by Stacy Schiff.
“The Terror” by Dan Simmons: Dan Simmons, whose “Carrion Comfort” won the Bram Stoker award in 1989, has recently written several books that blend history and horror. His most famous, perhaps, tells the story of the HMS Terror, part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition intent on finding the Northwest Passage. But the frozen Arctic Circle is not thawing, and the crew finds themselves stranded in floes of ice, with a quickly diminishing supply of food and coal. To make matters worse, the crew is stalked by a monstrous presence beneath the waves, a terror all its own. “The Terror” has also been adapted to television by AMC.
To learn more about the HMS Terror (and the HMS Erebus), consider “Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition” by Paul Watson.
“11/22/63” by Stephen King: The titular date of “11/22/63” marks the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. While Stephen King does not often write about real-life events, the assassination is at the heart of this book in that the main character, Jake Epping, has been granted an opportunity to stop it from happening. Add time-travel, romance and an ending that has made more than one Goodreads reader cry, and you have what many consider one of the best books in King’s extensive repertoire.
To learn more about the life of John F. Kennedy, consider “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963” by Robert Dallek.
“Dracul” by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker: A sickly child, Bram Stoker is cared for by his eccentric caretaker, Ellen Crone. He and his sister Matilda are intrigued by her strange behavior — not least of all her disappearance and her reappearance several years later. Written by Bram Stoker’s great grand-nephew and based on Stoker’s notes, “Dracul” blends the beginnings of Stoker’s life with the beginnings of the story of Dracula.
To learn more about Dracula and vampires in lore, consider “In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires” by Raymond T. McNally.
And to learn more about Bram Stoker and his work, as well as his descendant’s modern Dracula books, don’t forget to stop by the Northtown Library Oct. 10 for Club Book with Dacre Stoker himself! Learn more at tinyurl.com/y2h28efb.
Hayley Coble is a librarian at Northtown Library.